Hamilton's cancer survival rates among worst in Ontario, report says

Hamilton's survival rates for breast and lung cancers are among the worst in Ontario, according to a new report by the Cancer Quality Council of Ontario.
Dr. Bill Evans, president of the Jurivinski Cancer Centre, delivers the findings of the Cancer System Quality Index Wednesday. (Julia Chapman/CBC)

Hamilton's survival rates for breast and lung cancers are among the worst in Ontario, according to a new report by the Cancer Quality Council of Ontario.

And it shows that too many Hamiltonians are hurting their chances with cancer by making poor lifestyle choices.

"We live in a [Local Integrated Health Network] where lifestyle choices by residents are leading to a very large cancer burden," said Dr. Bill Evans, president of Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre.

Evans presented the findings of the 2013 Cancer System Quality Index, which examines cancers services across Ontario, on Wednesday.

The report card shows the five-year survival rate, meaning the percentage of patients who survive the first five years after diagnosis, for breast cancer to be 84.4 per cent, which is the worst in the province. For lung cancer, that percentage is 16.3 per cent for the local heath network and 18.8 per cent average for Ontario.

Looking at preventative lifestyle results from the report, Evans makes it clear the hospital's focus should be prevention.

Hamiltonians, and residents in the surrounding area, rank worse than the provincial average for all preventative lifestyle categories, including roughly four points higher for exceeding the cancer prevention maximum for excessive drinking, physical inactivity and obesity.

A lack of fruit and vegetable consumption and smoking — teen smoking in particular — are also problems in the Hamilton area.

"You have to be living on another planet to have not to have heard the message about smoking, "Evans said. "But it still seems we have higher than average smoking rates — around 22 per cent."

Evans also said this LHIN, that covers Hamilton, Niagara and Brantford, has higher than average numbers of stage 3 and 4 cancer, "essentially incurable," he said.

"Add that to a less healthy lifestyle and that's probably why our survival rate is not as good."

But there is a story behind every statistic, Evans said.

"A single important message is that we have to persuade people who live in this LHIN about healthy lifestyles," Evans said. "Some of that is challenging for socio-economic factors. We know we have populations that live below the poverty line so eating fruits and vegetables that are expensive, it's just not easy."

In Hamilton, Juravinski has social workers working with cancer patients, but the burden of expensive treatment often takes priority over talking about lifestyle problems, Evans said.

Juravinski was recently granted enough money from the Ontario Ministry of Health and Cancer Care Ontario to hire a staff person specifically to educate patients on smoking. Many lung cancer patients at Juravinski's Cancer Centre continue to smoke even after diagnosis, Evans said.

"We're only going to see a downturn in the incidence in prevalence of cancer and the cost of treatment unless we can get our messages across in healthy lifestyles," he said.